When it comes to job hunting, I was shocked to learn that most recruiters and hiring managers only give your resume a 6-second glance before they decide to accept or reject your application.
Yes, only 6 seconds.
6 seconds is not a long time by any means.
It’s probably taken you about 6 seconds to read this far.
So as you can see, your resume has to accomplish a lot in a very limited amount of time. Otherwise, it’ll end up in the “no” pile – even if you are the perfect candidate.
You can easily spend days perfecting your resume with the expectation that it’ll be properly reviewed by a professional on the other end. Finding out that all you may get is a 6-second glance is, understandably, incredibly frustrating for anyone trying to find a new job.
Thank You, Technology
As a job seeker, applying for jobs has never been easier. With a few clicks, you can apply for dozens of jobs in a matter of minutes. But that comes with some obvious disadvantages, too, as it means everyone else can also apply for dozens of jobs in a matter of minutes. So a job vacancy that used to get 50 applicants, could now be getting 5,000 instead. (I’ve seen it happen!)
From a recruiter’s standpoint, 6 seconds per resume is about all the time you have to trim that stack of 5,000 resumes back down to a more manageable number.
The increased use of technology also means many recruiters rely on applicant tracking systems (ATS) to do the initial screening for them. Meaning not only do you have to worry about getting your resume past the 6-second glance test but also any automated ATS the company might be using.
Searching for a job is already stressful enough!
So what can you do?
Well, I made this handy little one-page Free Resume Checklist for this exact situation!
But I’m also going to elaborate and explore the points included on the resume checklist in more detail with this post.
How to Get Your Resume Past the 6 Second Glance Test
To help your resume pass the 6-second glace test, make sure it meets the following checklist criteria:
Your first impression is critical when you only have 6 seconds. You want to have a clean and professional looking resume that can pass the glance test, but you also don’t want it to look like every other resume out there.
I work in a career center where we have about a dozen or so resume templates available on our computers. They are incredibly helpful for creating a new resume or trying a different style of resume, but it can mean that people walk out of our doors with a resume that looks almost identical to the resume of the person before them.
A hiring manager should be focusing on the content of your resume, but they may not. If you use a popular template, your resume could potentially be mistaken as a duplicate, or it may suggest that you are boring and lazy.
Templates and resume builders (like these free resume templates on Canva) are a great starting point, but adding a bit of your own originality will help your resume stand out. You don’t want to go overboard with colors and fonts and formatting, though either. Simple changes are all you really need.
What you put at the top of your resume (after your name and contact details) should be your best qualifications or highlights, as this is the first part of your resume’s content that will be seen. So make it easy for recruiters to see right from the start why they should keep reading!
You also want to consider which resume format will most effectively show your employment history, relevant skills, and transferable skills. There are a few to choose from including a chronological resume, a functional resume, or a combination resume.
Your resume’s appearance is important, as it has to be scannable to pass the glance test. Use bullet points, bolding, italicizing, CAPITALIZATION, and lines to help highlight and guide the reader’s eye to the important content you want them to see. Like your job titles, achievements, and credentials.
Only use one or two different fonts and different font sizes, and be consistent with them. Make sure the font you choose is clean and legible (such as Arial, Calibri, and Helvetica) and the right size (typically between 10 – 12 point font for your content, and no bigger than 16 point font for headings).
I mentioned leaving white space in this section as well as in the First Impression section because it really impacts the overall look and design of your resume. You should leave enough white space to create balance and make your resume visually appealing to a potential employer.
No one wants to read a wall of text. Breaking your content into sections and paragraphs makes it significantly more legible, and less cluttered or chaotic.
But you don’t want to over-do the white space, either. Too much white space makes it look like you don’t have the education, skills, or work experience needed for the job.
Margins are also important, as many printers/photocopiers will cut off parts of your content if the margins are too small.
If your resume is 2 pages or more, include the page number, your name, and your phone number or email address in the header or footer of the subsequent pages. That way if the recruiter has a paper copy of your resume, they can easily identify whose resume it is and what order it belongs in if the pages get mixed up.
How you break down your resume into sections will depend on your personal history and what you want to highlight about yourself for the specific job.
You will generally have sections for your contact information, highlights, or summary of skills or qualifications, education (including training and certificates), and experience (work history, volunteer work, etc.). But your resume may have more or may have less.
The important thing is to arrange the sections so that your strongest credentials and attributes stand out.
For example, I have a B.A. Honours degree in Dramatic Arts. When I was applying for work in the arts, I made sure my education was near the top of the first page of my resume. But when I decided to move away from that and look for more administrative-type jobs, I moved my education to the second page instead. I still wanted my education to be included, but it wasn’t my strongest selling point anymore.
The expectation is that you list your most recent experiences and training first and work backward in reverse chronological order.
So far I’ve mostly talked about how your resume should look in order to pass the 6-second glance test, but now I’m going to focus on the content itself. Having a visually perfect resume means nothing without it!
Try to quantify and highlight your success using numbers, percentages, and dollar amounts wherever possible. Numbers and symbols like $ and % stand out within your text, so using them is a great way to draw attention to anything that you do want to stand out. People also understand numbers. Saying you trained 300 new hires is a lot different than training only 3.
For most people, work responsibilities will make up a large portion of their resume, which is great and is expected. But don’t forget about your achievements.
Which bullet point sounds better to you?
- “Successfully signed new clients”
- “Successfully gained 125 new clients within 6 months and increased sales by 26%”
Both statements only take up a line on your resume, but including your achievements and accomplishments with numbers to support it makes a much stronger impression.
You want to include a strong action verb for each bullet point, such as developed, operated, and established. But you don’t want to repeat yourself.
Again, you’re in luck!
I’ve compiled a list of 500+ Resume Action Words that you can use.
The content you include on your resume has to be relevant to the position. You want to tailor it to match the job ad or position description as best as possible.
It’s not uncommon to have a second resume or a few variations that highlight your different skills or experience, particularly if you’ve worked in a few different roles or industries.
As an example, I had 3 basic resumes when I was job searching. One targeted towards arts jobs, one for general administration, and one for academic advising. I would use whichever of the 3 best matched the job vacancy.
You should also be making small changes or tweaks to your resume for each job you apply to. Sprinkle in the main keywords from the ad. (This is especially important to get your resume passed an applicant tracking system.) Or perhaps reorganize your sections or bullet points to better highlight how you meet what they are looking for.
When it comes to the writing style and words you use, make sure your resume doesn’t have any typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors. I suggest proofreading it using Grammarly – which is free – to help you catch any errors.
It’s okay to use terms like “I”, “me”, or “my” in your cover letter, but avoid using them on your resume. Usually simply deleting these terms is enough, but make sure your statement still makes sense and is grammatically correct.
For example, in your cover letter, it’s okay to say: “I successfully gained 125 new clients within 6 months and increased sales by 26%”. If you were to include this as a bullet point on your resume, however, you would take out that “I” at the beginning so that it reads: “Successfully gained 125 new clients within 6 months and increased sales by 26%” instead.
Pay attention to the tense you use, as well. Generally, you should be using past tense for your previous jobs, and present tense if you are still working there.
If a previous employer gave you a unique job title (like how Subway calls their front-line staff “sandwich artists”), it’s okay to use a different job title that is more clear (such as “sandwich maker”).
Lastly, make sure your resume makes sense! It should have a logical flow to it so that a recruiter can easily follow your history. After all, your resume is a marketing tool, so make sure it sells who you are in the best way possible.
Now Does Your Resume Pass the 6 Second Glance Test?
Alright. You’ve made your way through this post and the resume checklist, and you’re confident that your resume checks every box.
But how do you know if it will actually pass the 6-second resume glance test or not?
Print off a copy of your resume, and test it!
Give your resume to someone you trust, let them look at it for 6 seconds, and ask them what they thought.
- What stood out most about it?
- What do they remember?
- Can they tell what kind of job you’re looking for?
- Does it align with the specific job you’re applying for?
Test it out with a few different people to get a better consensus. Make any edits or revisions you need to based on this feedback, and test it again until you feel it will pass the 6-second glance test.
More Career & Job Searching Resources
I’m going to assume that if you read this post, you are either a big fan of mine (thank you!!) and/or you’re currently looking for a job.
Either way, I now have a Free Career & Job Searching Resource Library that includes the resources listed in this post, as well as others that you hopefully find useful!
If there’s anything you’d like to see added to the resource library, or if you have any questions about the 6-second resume glace test, please contact me. I’m happy to help!
What tips would you suggest for getting your resume past the 6-second glance test? Is there anything I missed on the resume checklist? Anything that you were surprised to learn? Leave a comment and let us know!
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.